It’s that time of year again already; your sleek, glossy show horse is transformed overnight into a hairy yak! This is fine if he lives out all winter, and you don’t want to ride him. He’ll stay nice and cozy in his water-repellant winter woolies, oblivious to the arctic blasts that have you shivering and with blue fingers as you take him his extra feed rations.
If you want to carry on working him however, all that thick fluffy hairiness is a real pain. For one thing, it’s very difficult to keep your horse clean if he’s a mudlark who enjoys a good roll and a really hairy horse will sweat profusely even after a gentle hack. This is not good for keeping his condition and can lead to tack rubbing where he sweats. It’s also not good practice to put a damp, sweaty horse straight back out into the field as he could become chilled. If he’s rugged up, you’ll have to wait until he’s dry before you can put his rugs back on, which isn’t ideal if you’re pushed for time.
The best compromise is to clip your horse if you intend to ride him over the winter months. If he’s to be in light work, just choose a style which keeps the areas most prone to sweating (his girth and neck area) clear of hair. A horse in moderate to hard work or who has a particularly thick winter coat is probably best clipped out completely. Remember, though, that he grew a winter coat for a reason; to keep him warm. If you remove that winter onesie, remember to rug him up!
Here are some basic tips on how to achieve a sleek, professional-looking clip for your horse.
· Make sure your horse is clean and dry before you start. If your horse is muddy and damp, the clipper blades will catch and drag the hair and the end result will be uneven and untidy.
· Choose the most powerful clippers you can get. The stronger the motor, the faster the blades will move which means they’ll cut through the thick hair better and leave less track marks.
· Keep the clipper blades sharpened and well lubricated. If your blades are sharp and well-oiled they will need less power from the clipper motor. This means that the clippers will run cooler so you won’t run the risk of burning your horse’s skin.
· Don’t rush. Use a slow, smooth stroke as you clip. You want to feel as though the blades are sliding through the hair like the proverbial knife through butter with no snagging or pulling.
· Don’t hold the clippers with the blades at a steep angle to the horse’s skin. Instead, keep them parallel; this makes them less likely to gouge and nick the skin.
· Always clip against the lay of the hair and be ready to change direction with the horse’s coat as this can change especially in areas like the armpits and flanks. You may have to make several passes at different angles in these areas.
· Your horse must learn to stand (or be held) still. You can’t hope to achieve a professional result if he’s fidgeting all the time you’re trying to clip him. It’s only natural that a young horse will be wary of the clippers; they can be quite noisy especially when you come to clip his head. The best way of getting him used to them is by patiently de-sensitising him. Turn the clippers on and let him get used to the sound of them running. Take the blades out and, once he’s comfortable with the sound, place the clippers on his shoulder so that he gets used to the feel of the machine against his skin. Always begin clipping for real at the shoulder. He can see what you’re doing and it’s a good, flat area to start with. Most horses learn to accept being clipped with time and patience but some will have to be sedated by a vet before their annual haircut. If your horse falls into this category, make sure you allow plenty of time for the drugs to leave his system before you compete him.
· After clipping, remove and residual grease and scurf by using a damp sponge soaked in a weak solution of warm water and vinegar. This gets rid of the grease and dirt and leaves a nice shine. You could finish off with a special post-clipping moisturising product to help combat that dry, rough feeling you sometimes get after the first clip of the winter.
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